Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Road Charge Pilot Final Report

The RCPP was conducted by the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) through the leadership and collaboration of Caltrans, the California Transportation Commission (CTC) and the Road Charge Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), a volunteer committee representing various industries, formed to determine the parameters of the pilot.
The statewide live demonstration of the RCPP was conducted from July 2016 through March 2017. For the year prior to the deployment of the live pilot a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), comprised of 15 volunteer members who represented a broad array of interests and stakeholders in the state, met monthly throughout 2015 to consider expert and stakeholder input and thoroughly vet and discuss all aspects of the pilot before adopting the pilot program design parameters.
More than 5,000 vehicles, representing every segment of California’s driving population, including a wide range of passenger vehicles, agency and business fleets, and for the first time, commercial trucking. Additionally, in order to collect a large and valid set of perspectives, the pilot sought comprehensive representation of California’s diverse demographic, geographic, and socioeconomic population.
The intention of the RCPP was to inform policymakers about the feasibility of a road charge program. The passage of Senate Bill 1 provides more time to research and refine a sustainable alternative to the gas tax. If a road charge is indeed found to be a viable alternative solution to the gas tax collection method, it will be a complex process transitioning to a new funding system involving numerous state agencies and impacting more than 34 million registered vehicles. It will take years to research and construct a new system. Legislature and transportation officials must begin preparing now to ensure future funding stability.
The specific design parameters of the RCPP were created through extensive research by the Road Charge Technical Advisory Committee, with input from stakeholder groups, and the general public. During the pilot, 5,000 participants, representing the diverse demographic, geographic, and socio-economic aspects of California, reported the amount of road usage (or miles traveled) over a nine-month period. Six recording and reporting methods were used, offering no-tech, low-tech, and high-technology options. Mileage data from all participants was gathered and protected, then a simulated road charge was created through third-party vendors.
No decisions have been made, nor conclusions reached, about whether a road charge – or any other new transportation funding mechanism – is the appropriate sustainable solution to the state’s transportation funding challenges. A road charge is just one of many concepts that will be researched and tested during the next several years to examine sustainable funding models that provide for ongoing infrastructure maintenance, is equitable for all California drivers, and reflects today’s transportation realities.
As future consumption of gasoline and diesel fuel falls due to increased fleet efficiency, so does the revenue derived from the gas tax. California will be challenged to sustain its $2.5-trillion economy if it continues to rely primarily on fuel-based transportation revenue.
When initially instituted, the gas tax methodology was an equitable revenue system, generally due to vehicles having comparable fuel consumption rates. However the limitations of the gas tax have become more apparent in the changing makeup of California’s vehicle fleet. As fuel efficiency continues to rise, and more affordable alternative fuel vehicles enter the market, California will experience an overall increase in the average fuel efficiency of the fleet. Continuing to base transportation funding on fuel consumption is not a long-term, sustainable option. Establishing a transportation funding mechanism, based on actual use of the road, instead of the fuel consumption of the vehicle, could provide a fair, equitable, and sustainable transportation funding mechanism for decades to come.

Compounding the effect of improved fuel efficiency was the stagnant gas tax rate. However, after over two decades without an adjustment for inflation, the passage of Senate Bill 1 restored the purchasing power of the gas tax, helping the state address the immediate backlog of transportation maintenance and repair needs.

While much of the concern regarding an immediate funding crisis has been addressed by Senate Bill 1’s updates to the existing transportation infrastructure funding mechanism, a road charge program is worthy of further research to prepare the state for a future where most of the cars on the road are powered by alternative energy sources.

All vehicles, regardless of their fuel source, cause wear and tear to our roadways. As more vehicles are increasingly more fuel efficient, there is a need to identify other revenue methods that are equitable and sustainable in the long-term. A road charge is based on the “user pays” principle: those who use the roadway network and benefit from it are also the ones who pay for it. The goal is to provide a system where all vehicles contribute to funding maintenance of our roadways in proportion to individual roadway use, regardless of their fuel source.
1. The RCPP participants drove in excess of 37 million miles during the nine month pilot period, demonstrating the desire for mobility. It also is a testament to California’s commitment to being a leader in innovation, having achieved many firsts during the pilot:

  • Maintaining over 5,000 participating vehicles over a nine-month pilot
  • Demonstrating six reporting and recording methods
  • Offering various technology options, including no technology and high-technology options: and
  • Including, for the first time, heavy commercial vehicles

2. The RCPP was successful in studying the viability of utilizing third-party vendors (account managers), to provide the necessary services and technologies used to record and report miles driven. The pilot was also successful in providing flexibility of services to pilot participants and demonstrating the ability to offer other value-added features, enhancing the user experience.
3. All the mileage reporting options tested worked to some degree:

  • The manual options, provided the highest degree of privacy and data security, but will in all likelihood be the most difficult to enforce, and in some cases, such as the odometer reading, could be costly to administer.
  • Of the automated methods, the plug-in (OBD II) devices are the most reliable, however, as new technology emerges, this methodology could be obsolete by the time a road charge program is adopted. The more technologically advanced methods of the smartphone application with location services and in-vehicle telematics show great promise, but both need further refinement.
  • With in-vehicle telematics becoming standard equipment, this method of recording and reporting a road charge has the potential of being a cost effective option. However there are a number of issues needing resolution:
    • Currently there are a limited number of manufacturer’s (as well as makes and models) allowing access to the mileage data collected.
    • Vehicle manufacturers require owners to subscribe to telematics services (i.e. OnStar, AccuraLink), and in some instances at a cost to the vehicle owner.
    • Login credentials need to be shared with the Account Managers to access the mileage data.
    • Continuous transmission of location data due to the high frequency rate required to ping, or query the vehicle to establish connection and determine location, to verify out-of-state or private road mileage for automatic mileage exemptions, the cost of this query methodology employed during the pilot is too exorbitant to be feasible for a statewide system.
1. Education on Transportation Funding

  • There was a misconception from pilot participants on how transportation is truly funded and why the current funding is diminishing. There is also disconnect between paying a gas tax and revenue being used for transportation funding for repairs and maintenance on our roads.
  • Continued education and outreach is key to creating the awareness needed by the general public to feel comfortable with a new change that might happen in the future.
  • Experience and education throughout the pilot led to an increase in acceptance among participants, with an increase from 66% to 73% agreeing that a road charge is more fair than a gas tax.

2. Cost to Administer

  • Compared to the minimal cost (less than 1%) associated with administering the gas tax, a road charge is much more complex with higher costs. Further research is needed to explore various ways to bring the cost of administration down.

3. Vehicle Technology

  • The advancement with in-vehicle technologies is constantly evolving and it will take a collaborative effort between state agencies, car manufacturers, and the Legislature to stay ahead of the curve.
Through the Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives grant program within the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, California was awarded funds to support the demonstration of an alternative way of collecting revenue for transportation that replicates the current gas tax collection mechanism.

Building on the momentum of the road charge pilot program, Caltrans will utilize this grant award to demonstrate pay-at-the-pump/charging station revenue collection funding methods and continue research on public attitudes towards transportation funding and strategic educational outreach. With in-vehicle telematics advancing, and the internet of things expanding, these evolving technologies could provide a user-friendly and seamless solution for the collection of mileage-based user data at the pump or charging station, which has the potential of providing enhanced privacy and data security.

Formed in 2013, RUC West is a voluntary coalition of 14 western state departments of transportation that are committed to collaborative research and development of a new method for funding transportation infrastructure based on drivers’ actual road usage. Member states include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington. Website link.

RUC WEST STATES:
Hawaii Department of Transportation – User fee collection based on manual and automated odometer readings at inspection stations.

Oregon Department of Transportation – Improvements to Oregon’s existing road usage charge program. Establishing the consistency, compatibility and interoperability in road user charging for a regional system in collaboration with members of the Western Road User Charge Consortium.

Washington Department of Transportation – Testing critical elements of interoperable, multi-jurisdictional alternative user-based revenue collection systems. Piloting methods of road usage reporting with Washington drivers.

OTHER STATES:
Delaware Department of Transportation – User fees based with on-board mileage counters in collaboration with members of the I-95 Corridor Coalition.

Minnesota Department of Transportation – Use of Mobility-as-a-Service providers as the revenue collection mechanism.

Missouri Department of Transportation – Implementation of a new registration fee schedule based on estimated miles per gallon.

Policy

A: A road charge is a system where all drivers pay to maintain the roads based on how much they drive, rather than how much gas they consume.
A: The pilot program is a field trial approved by the Legislature to explore road charging as a potential long-term replacement for the gas tax. More than 5,000 volunteer participating vehicles are testing various road charging methods to compare how the performance of each concept measures against criteria. The pilot program will inform the Legislature’s decision in June, 2017 on whether and how to move forward with a full-scale road charge program.
A: The pilot launched on July 1, 2016 and will last for nine months through March, 2017.
A: California needs a sustainable and equitable way to pay for and keep pace with road maintenance and repair needs. The state’s current fuel excise tax is sufficient to fund only $2.3 billion of work—leaving $5.7 billion in unfunded repairs each year.

Our current transportation funding system relies on revenue from the gas tax and other fuel taxes that are outdated and in decline due to the increase in hybrid and electric vehicles and the improving fuel efficiency – even as more cars use California’s roads and wear and tear increases. In fact, by 2030 as much as half of the revenue that could have been collected from the gas tax will be lost to fuel efficiency. California drivers ultimately suffer the consequences of delayed road maintenance through poor road quality and high vehicle repair costs. A recent transportation study found that California’s spend an annual average of $762 on vehicle repair costs due to poorly maintained roads, and that 564 of the state’s bridges are in need of repair.
A: Senate Bill 1077 (2014) specifically requires that privacy implications are taken into account, especially with regard to location data. Privacy issues were addressed through the Technical Advisory Committee process and privacy protections will be incorporated in the pilot.
A: Senate Bill 1077 (2014) created the Road Charge Pilot Program as well as a 15-member volunteer “Technical Advisory Committee” (TAC) to study, gather input and make recommendations on the parameters of the pilot. The TAC members represented the state’s transportation, social equity, privacy rights, and telecommunications interests, among others. The TAC engaged in a yearlong process to solicit feedback and input from a broad and diverse group of stakeholders. During its process, the TAC:

  • Held 12 public meetings throughout the state
  • Reached out and asked for feedback and input from over 400 stakeholder groups and every elected official that represents California.
  • Conducted public surveys and focus groups to gain a better understanding of the public’s views and opinions of the current condition of California’s roads, perceptions of how transportation is funded, and to gauge public reaction to road charging as a replacement for the gas tax
  • Briefed reporters and newspaper editors in every major news media outlet to seek help in broadcasting the work of the TAC to the general public
A: A permanent road charge program can only be enacted by the Legislature. If approved, a road charge program could replace the existing gas tax.
A: “User pays” is a time-tested and familiar principle, as evidenced by our electricity, water and cell phone bills. California is examining how it could apply this strategy to its roads: those who use the roadway network and benefit from it are also the ones to pay for it. Another reason California is studying a road charge is to carefully consider whether and how a road charge system might be designed efficiently for the unique needs of Californians—without being overly burdensome for vehicle owners to comply with or overly costly for the state to administer.
A: In December 2015, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. It is the first long-term authorization since 2005’s Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), which expired in 2009. In the FAST Act, Congress recognized the need to demonstrate user-based alternative revenue mechanisms, utilizing a user fee model (road charge) to maintain the long-term solvency of the Federal Highway Trust Fund. The enactment of the FAST Act created a five-year, $95 million grant program which is eligible to a state or group of states to test the design, acceptance, and implementation of a future road charge alternative revenue mechanism.

Volunteering

A: The road charge pilot program is an opportunity for drivers representative of the geographic, demographic and socioeconomic diversity of California to participate in a meaningful study to help determine if a road charge model could be an equitable, sustainable and adaptable revenue mechanism capable of replacing the deteriorating gas tax model. As any change to the current gas tax model would impact all of the state’s motorists, it is important that diverse perspectives are represented during the pilot so the Legislature has all of the information it needs before making a decision about whether and how to proceed with a full-scale road charge program.
A: We have past our mid-point in the pilot and are no longer accepting any new volunteers. You can stay connected by signing up for the interest list here. By joining this community of people you will get the latest information about the pilot program by receiving regular email updates on the pilot status.
A: Caltrans employed a number of methods to spread the word and recruit volunteer participants. These included utilizing the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and other state departments to make drivers aware of the volunteer opportunity and to engage a number of partners that can reach out to and recruit a large number of people. Mass media tactics was also utilized to make sure that visibility was created around the program and that the opportunity was presented to the general public. More information is available at www.CaliforniaRoadChargePilot.com.
A: Yes, as a member of the Technical Advisory Committee, the California Trucking Association volunteered to participate in the pilot, citing interest from many in the industry in understanding better the potential impacts of a road charge and being part of the discussion about whether and how to implement it. The California Trucking Association assisted in recruiting more than 50 trucks representing seven distinct industry segments currently participating in the pilot.
A: No. The program is free for volunteers and no actual money is being exchanged. Participants submit mock payments via mail or a secure website for testing purposes.
A: The pilot gives participants several options for reporting mileage, including several which do not require technology in the vehicle and one which does not require any mileage reporting. These options include:

  • Time permit: Similar to a vehicle registration fee, the participant purchases unlimited road use for a specific period of time.
  • Mileage permit: The participant pre-pays to drive a certain number of miles.
  • Odometer charge: The participant pays a fee per mile based on periodic odometer readings.
  • Automated mileage reporting without general location data: Vehicles have equipment that measures and reports mileage automatically to an account manager—either provided by a state agency or a private company. The account manager periodically (monthly or quarterly) sends the motorist an invoice for road use.
  • Automated mileage reporting with general location data: In-vehicle equipment reports mileage traveled to a third party account manager which invoices the participant. The equipment also provides general location data so the participant is credited for travel out-of-state or on private roads. Technology options recommended by the Technical Advisory Committee for this option include in-vehicle telematics, smartphone apps, and plug-in devices for the vehicle’s on-board diagnostics (OBD-II) data port.
The pilot does not actually collect fees from participants, but gives participants the choice of submitting a mock payment via mail or a secure website for testing purposes.
A: No, participants do not need to purchase or install any new technology to be part of the pilot, and many can use existing technology such as smartphones and their vehicle odometer. The pilot gives participants several options for reporting mileage, including those which do not require technology in the vehicle or mileage reporting.
A: Senate Bill 1077 requires the pilot program:

  1. Include at least one alternative that does not rely on electronic vehicle location data.
  2. Collect a minimum amount of personal information including location tracking information, necessary to implement the road charge program.
  3. Ensure that processes for collecting, managing, storing, transmitting, and destroying data are in place to protect the integrity of the data and safeguard the privacy of drivers. Participant’s information shall not be disclosed, distributed, made available, sold, or accessed by any private entity.
Following implementation of the pilot, the California State Transportation Agency will issue a report including recommendations regarding public, private and law enforcement access to data collected and stored for purposes of the road charge to ensure individual privacy rights are protected pursuant to Section 1 of Article I of the California Constitution should permanent implementation of the road charge be considered in the future.

Equity

A: If a road charge program were implemented, the impact on individual households would depend on particular circumstances. The pilot program allows us to examine this question in greater detail.
A: All vehicles, regardless of fuel source, cause wear and tear to roads and contribute to roadway congestion. The pilot is testing how a road charge could impact electric and fuel efficient vehicles and allow them to pay a fair share to maintain the roads. Although the payment method is different, the road charge is based on the same idea as a gas tax: the amount drivers pay to maintain roads should correspond to the number of miles they drive.
A: By looking at a road charge model we are researching alternatives to create a more equitable way for all California drivers to contribute to the upkeep of our state roads. Regardless of fuel efficiency, all drivers are using California roads and under-funded roads are costly for everyone. A recent study found that Californian’s spend an annual average of $762 on vehicle repair costs each year due to poorly maintained roads. We are researching a road charge as a potential long-term, equitable solution to adequately fund California roads in the face of declining tax revenue.
A: The road charge pilot is a test. The Legislature has not enacted a permanent road charge program. California’s gas excise taxes are legislatively directed for roadway maintenance only. If the state were to shift to a road charge method, the same legislative protections can be developed to ensure revenues go only to roadway maintenance.
A: The purpose of exploring road charge is to find a sustainable and equitable funding source to maintain our roads for all Californians, regardless of where they live. The current system of gas taxes means that, all else equal, motorists who drive long distances pay more because they burn more fuel. However, national research shows that rural households tend to own vehicles with lower fuel efficiency, which means they pay more per mile driven. Under a road charge, everyone would pay the same amount per mile driven. The pilot test allows us to examine the relative impacts on urban and rural drivers in greater detail.

Alternative Funding Options

A: Yes, there are other options to increase funds for road maintenance, including increasing vehicle license fees, increasing the gas tax, increasing sales taxes (including local sales tax measures), tolling more highways or allocating state money from other areas like education and health care. California’s Legislature, the State Transportation Agency, and some local authorities are currently looking at all of these alternatives, and some have been implemented. Road charging is a promising, long-term option to address the systemic problems with our current gas tax system.
A: Cars are getting higher miles per gallon (MPG) independent of trends in oil and gas prices. Even pickups and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) have vastly improved MPG over models sold just a few years ago. This is a great success for California and for the country. But when people buy less fuel, they pay less in taxes that fund roadway maintenance and repair. As Californians continue to drive extensively and cause wear-and-tear to the roadways, we need to find a fair and equitable revenue source to replace the gas tax and maintain roads for future generations that treat in a way that treats all drives equitably regardless of what car they drive.
A: Raising the gas tax could be a short-term solution to funding roadway maintenance and repair, but the gas tax continually declines on a per-mile basis as California’s vehicle fleet becomes more fuel-efficient and Californians purchase fewer gallons of fuel. Vehicles are now getting more miles per gallon or are using alternate fuels and electricity where no gas tax is charged. As part of an effort to find viable long-term solutions to roadway funding, the Legislature passed, and Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 1077 in 2014 to explore road charging as one potential option.
A: In November 2015, the Mineta Transportation Institute released findings, sponsored by the United States Department of Transportation, on the estimated relative cost of a gas tax versus a road user charge. The findings were developed from an analysis of vehicle miles travel data extracted from the 2010-2011 California Household Travel Survey. The study looked at current driving habit data among various groups, including urban/rural and low/high income households. The study found no statistically significant difference in the cost of the two programs to California households.

Pilot Operations

A: The California Road Charge Pilot Program has generated significant press coverage since the launch of the pilot. You can access a selection of news articles and media segments on the project website. Please click HERE to access current news on our website!